Fresh F1 owner Liberty Media looks to expand number of races

Formula One drivers start the Russian F1 Grand Prix in Sochi, Russia, October 11, 2015. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor/File Photo

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Liberty Media is looking to expand the number of Formula One races, hoping to cash in on the glamorous appeal of its newly acquired asset, chief executive Greg Maffei said on Wednesday.

Formula One has a record-equalling 21 races this season and teams have historically been reluctant to go beyond that number, but Maffei told investors at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecoms conference that there was room for more.

"There is a general line of interest if you increase the number of races to a point. The FIA (the International Automobile Federation, which governs the sport) makes more money, the teams make more money, we make more money," he said.

Formula One faces a major shake-up after Liberty Media agreed to take control of the cash-generating sport. Liberty Media has acquired an initial 18.7 percent stake from controlling shareholder CVC Capital Partners [CVC.UL] and plans to complete a cash and shares deal by the first quarter of 2017.

The deal, which has an enterprise value of $8 billion is expected to lead to a new push to develop the U.S. market and win fresh audiences around the world.

Expanding the racing calendar may be a way to do this, Maffei said. "Obviously there is a limit on how much you can do. Just getting the cars around the world, but I think we can expect to grow the amount of races to a mild degree."

Maffei said there were opportunities to expand in Latin America, Asia and the United States. "I particularly like the idea of a night race in Las Vegas," the CEO said, acknowledging that the heart of the Formula One sport is in Western Europe with famous circuits such as Monza and Monaco.

"But new entrants tend to pay more," the executive said.

Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's commercial supremo who has remained at the helm after the takeover, recently appeared to pour cold water on the immediate prospect of adding races in the United States.

The 86-year-old Briton has been talking to would-be promoters of a Las Vegas race for several months without any sign of progress. The future of South America’s only current grand prix in Brazil is also uncertain due to the country’s economic crisis.

Liberty Media has interests in the Atlanta Braves baseball team, satellite radio service Sirius XM, entertainment group Live Nation and minority interests in Time Warner and Viacom.

(Additional reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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